Posted in | Microscopy | Nanoanalysis

New Hybrid Technique Could Help Develop Low-Cost Mini-Microscopes

A research team from MIT and Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) have developed a new hybrid technique, by integrating a basic methodology with a new microscopy technique. This innovative method could be used to design cost-effective mini-microscopes.

Called Expansion Mini-Microscopy (ExMM), the hybrid technique has allowed the researchers to capture high-resolution images, previously only possible with benchtop microscopes that are expensive. The team have discussed this latest technique in Scientific Reports.

The study exploits an expansion microscopy technique, which was developed by a research team headed by Edward Boyden, PhD, of the MIT Media Lab and McGovern Institute. This technique utilizes a swellable gel to manually grow a specimen up to 4.5 times its original size.

BWH bioengineers, headed by Ali Khademhosseini, PhD, director of the Biomaterials Innovation Research Center, have successfully developed mini-microscopes using a combination of a webcam and off-the-shelf components, such as fluorescence capacity with tunable magnifications. Such components are available for a low cost.

The image resolution provided by these mini-microscopes has been rather restricted, but by combining this technique with the samples’ physical expansion, the team were able to get a resolution that is similar than the resolution achieved by traditional benchtop microscopes.

To demonstrate this achievement, the ExMM technique was tested to enlarge bacterial species. According to the researchers, their method could be used in many potential applications, including point-of-care diagnosis in developing nations.

We anticipate that our ExMM technology is likely to find widespread applications in low-cost, high-resolution imaging of biological and medical samples, potentially replacing the benchtop microscope in many cases where portability is a priority, such as in research and health care scenarios in undeveloped countries or remote places.

Ali Khademhosseini, PhD, Director, Biomaterials Innovation Research Center,

"The beauty of the ExMM technology lies in its simplicity--by combining physical and optical magnifications, high performance is achievable at a low cost. It's a 'best of both worlds' technology, in a way, utilizing the best features of inexpensive chemicals and inexpensive optics," said Boyden.

The further advancement of the technology, through the development of cheap and simple ExMM detection kits and the algorithms associated with imaging processing, will allow streamlined sample preparation, imaging, and analysis.

Shrike Zhang, PhD, BWH's

Zhang and Jae-Byum Chang, PhD, of the Boyden lab at MIT are co-first authors of the study.

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